Murphy, Ciattarelli touring NJ as campaign coming to close

FILE - Incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., right, speaks while Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli listens during a gubernatorial debate at Rowan University's Pfleeger Concert Hall Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Glassboro, N.J. New Jersey’s first ever early in-person voting wraps up Sunday in an election in which voters will elect the governor and Legislature. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool, File)

TRENTON, N.J. — In the closing hours of New Jersey’s campaign for governor, Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy is traveling the state touting the progressive accomplishments during his first term and Republican Jack Ciattarelli is also on tour railing against high property taxes and mask mandates in schools.

Murphy will be the first Democrat reelected in 44 years if he wins on Tuesday and the first person from the same party of the president to win in the off-year election in more than three decades. He’s staked his chances on a substantial list of progressive laws he’s signed: paid sick leave, a phased-in $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, taxpayer-financed community college and pre-kindergarten and more.

Democrats have strong advantages in New Jersey, where they have 1 million more registered voters than Republicans. Murphy has also led in public polls throughout the campaign.

Ciattarelli, a former Assembly member and small businessman, is trying to salvage the GOP’s slumping performance in elections.

The party has historically had success in statewide contests for governor, but nearly got shut out in U.S. House races during then-President Donald Trump’s midterm elections. The party also has a base that’s strongly with the former president and a bench of elected officials who are known to be moderates. It’s a mismatch that’s led Ciattarelli to embrace both the base as well as some moderate stances.

For instance, he’s called for preserving abortion rights and allowing immigrants without legal status to get drivers licenses, while he’s also implicitly criticized critical race theory in schools, saying that “we are not going to teach our children to feel guilty.”

Critical race theory  is a method of thinking of America’s history through the lens of racism that has become a political lightning rod of the Republican Party recently.

Murphy spent the weekend in traditional Democratic strongholds: Atlantic City, Camden, Elizabeth and Willingboro, among others.

Ciattarelli spent part of Saturday in the heart of New Jersey’s GOP country: Ocean County.

Also on the ballot are all 120 seats in the Legislature. Most expect it will remain under Democratic control in the next session.

If he wins, Murphy has promise to sign a Reproductive Freedom Act enshrining abortion rights into state law, a response to Democratic concerns that Roe v. Wade could be undone by the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s also promised more gun control legislation and to expand taxpayer-financed pre-kindergarten to more schools, eventually making it universal for all 3-year-olds.

Ciattarelli has promised to reduce property taxes, which average about $9,100 and are among the highest in the country, by overhauling the state’s school funding formula. Details about how it would work, however, are murky. He’s also said there will be no COVID-19 mandates under his administration. Murphy, by contrast, currently has ordered masks in schools.

He’s also relentlessly attacked Murphy over saying that “if taxes are your issue, we’re probably not your state,” slamming the governor for seeming to be out of touch with an issue voters say matters to them.

Early in-person voting ended Sunday. About 700,000 ballots were cast early, with the majority coming from mail-in votes at about 500,000. The remaining 200,000 were in-person votes, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Polls open Tuesday at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Mail-in ballots can be returned through 8 p.m. Tuesday as well.